New Chainsaw Massacre – so close (in name only) to the 1974s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that it feels like a taunt rather than a respectful nod – opens with a pulpy TV documentary detailing the events of the first film. Of course, superficially it matches the opening roll of the original, which presented the film as a true story: “The film you are about to see is an account of the tragedy that befell a group of five young people, especially Sally Hardesty and her disabled brother, Franklin.
Nearly 50 years after the fact, the infamous serial killer Leatherface is still at large, his whereabouts unknown. Meanwhile, Sally, the most famous last girl in movie history, leads a quiet life somewhere in rural Texas. Because the new Massacre takes place now, the filmmakers have a number of opportunities to shoot cheap text shots on hot talking points. In this case, mass shootings, gun ownership, racism, electric cars, the millennial wimp, and gentrification. And because the horror genre’s dominant arm has, since the 2010s at least, firmly cemented some narrative quirks, trauma is an important guideline here. One character, Lila, is a survivor of a school shooting, who isn’t even awkwardly treated as much as brought up a few times, then ignored until the very end when Lila decides to wield a semi-automatic rifle. against Leatherface, which looks even more ridiculous than it looks.
As the film opens, the abandoned town of Harlow, Texas is about to get a makeover thanks to enterprising young people, including Lila’s older sister, Melody, who hope to auction off its buildings in order to develop a new inclusive community of entrepreneurs in the middle. From nowhere. The locals are grumpy like in a movie where rural white people chew tobacco, spit and often say “boy”, but there’s not much they can do about it – the area needs the money. The main genius behind this operation, Dante, discovers that one of the buildings, a former orphanage, is not vacant. Instead, the owner of the orphanage, now an elderly woman, lives there with one of her wards, Leatherface, who looks a bit like a guy. Dante demands to see his papers, calls the cops, has the woman deported, the shock of which causes her to die and this causes Leatherface to return to rampant butchery.
The filmmakers of Chainsaw Massacrewhich join those of the most recent Yell movie and rebooted Halloween franchise as people who were never involved with the source material, think Easter Eggs are good enough substitutes for a single interesting idea, and hope that more violence will provide an experience approaching excitement. In the case of Massacre, they even asked John Larroquette, narrator of the original film’s opening titles, to narrate the fake TV show. It’s disconcerting and hilarious to see footage from the first half of Tobe Hooper’s opus turned into badly photoshopped evidence supposedly pulled from police files on Leatherface’s first killing spree. A Polaroid, of Sally and her friends alive and laughing in their van, looks like an Instagram stock image of an influencer.
Even in 1996, horror movies were getting self-reflexive enough that characters would say things like, “These days, you gotta get a sequel.” The movie from which the quote is taken, Yelldelivered with cheerful madness by Matthew Lillard, joined postmodern 90s films like pulp Fiction and Clerks where meta-comments on genre, form, and style were integrated into the dialogue and narrative structure of the story. Audiences were well aware of the conventions and restrictions of horror movies. Why not the characters too? Or, as Adam Nayman at The ring recently summed up, “The 90s is when postmodernism went mainstream.” Instead of sequels, thinly veiled sequels or reboots are more the ticket these days. They are supposedly playful and clever reimaginings of seminal works for younger audiences where the characters are not only aware of the film tropes they unwittingly find themselves in, but actively work to subvert them, with more relevance, diversity and/or difficulty. hitting thrown items for good measure. In this direction, Chainsaw Massacre stands out somewhat because the characters 1) have clearly never seen a single horror movie and 2) seem to have been born from an algorithm of “millennials”.
The filmmakers think the Easter Eggs are good enough substitutes for a single interesting idea, and hope that more violence will provide an experience close to excitement.
Ironically, while studios have tried and failed to bring back revamped classics like wax house, Child’s play, Fighting spirit, The thingand Pet sematarythe Yell The franchise has continued into the present, its fifth installment still in theaters, but without its creator’s surprise, craftsmanship, or cleverness. Those characters who managed to survive, Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott and Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers and David Arquette’s Dewey Riley are older, presumably wiser, but mostly turned into glorified bits of nostalgia. The joke Lillard spewed in 1996 has come back to bite the franchise in the ass. Meanwhile, Halloween spawned a brutal new trilogy directed by David Gordon Green and again starring Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode that does nothing for the franchise except highlight how good the first film is, and, if you will really stepping out on a limb, how fun and wacky some of the early sequels are.
With all this in mind, it seems sadly inevitable, after the disconcerting success of this new Halloween series, which has been alternately praised and chastised for its relentless violence and insanely high body count (considering all existing films, including new ones, Michael Meyers has killed something like 200 people, which sounds exhausting) , that the next victim to be dragged into the harsh light of day Chainsaw Massacre movies.
Fede Alvarez, one of the producers of the new film but better known as the director of don’t breathe and the remake of evil Dead, underlined the “old school” character of this new opus. “Everything is classic,” he told Bloody disgusting. To him, that means vintage lenses and “no VFX,” which is one of the most popular lies filmmakers have told about their movies lately. Alas, the film still looks like it was shot with a DSLR and the many visual effects are crap. In some ways, this new Massacre is old school in that its characters are so consistently dumb and unsympathetic that they cease to be anything but meat ready to be cut. To be fair, when talking about the original movie, Tobe Hooper said he was making a movie about meat, but he was talking about slaughterhouses and the general disillusion that citizens had with the American project after Vietnam and Watergate, as well than the sensationalism of violence. and the fear found in the local news.
What is telling about Massacre and its rebooted peers explain how, despite repeated praise and claims of fidelity to the source material by their creators, it’s obvious that the writers and directors actually have no idea why the originals worked. At the very least, their takeouts rely solely on sinister superficiality, killing and gore. Much of 1974 The Texas Chainsaw MassacreThe enduring appeal of , and why it looks so graphic even though nearly all of the violence isn’t actually shown, is its look: gritty and grimy, with an unpolished, viscerally unsettling texture that touches everything from its production design and from her makeup to her audio. There’s real blood in the frame, some of the actors, who suffered from filming so disorganized, cheap and hot that most of the actors were injured at the end. A pitch is reached as Sally Hardesty climbs into the back of this blood-covered van, a van so oddly creepy and feverish because the quality of the acting and the realism of the setting almost make you believe that what you have looked really happened.
Often, studios work backwards from the success of these films, thinking that the Halloween and evil Deads of the world were always intended to be well-received and influential icons created by a committee when in reality they were small projects run by nerds who wanted to try their hand at something different. It’s not that Sam Raimi or John Carpenter didn’t have a clear vision. They just didn’t approach their work in an over-determined or, God forbid, serious way. It’s another eye-opener, after so many sequels and remakes: great filmmakers know how to balance multiple moods and tones, how to let comedy flourish without disfiguring horror, and how to make audiences laugh without adding jokes. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reaches such a high because even its unintentionally funny moments only underscore how extreme, weird, and ultimately horrifying the story is. Leatherface swinging his chainsaw in the sun in a dance of frustration and madness is a stunningly beautiful image, an iconic scene that can never be replicated. I say “dance” even though, in the context of the story, Leatherface isn’t. In the new movie, created by people who only know this image is famous but don’t understand why, a different final girl runs away (in a Tesla tuned to autopilot), Leatherface literally dances, hops and twirls, this time with his chainsaw and a decapitated head.
Nicholas Russell is a writer from Las Vegas. His work has been featured in The Believer, Defector, Reverse Shot, Vulture, The Guardian, NPR Music and The Point, among other publications.